In Aycliffe we have been busy this month fighting a local election campaign over who gets the right to go to County Hall to implement the Tories’ draconian cuts to local government spending. So you might have missed what the government has been smuggling in under the smokescreen of the election and the Thatcher funeral.
In fact, April was a disastrous month for ordinary British people:
In fact, April was a disastrous month for ordinary British people:
On 24 April, the Lords finally validated ‘Section 75’ (which requires the NHS to put its services out to tender – the key piece of legislation in the government’s intention to ‘marketise’ the NHS). Guardian journalist Sonia Poulton tweeted that 206 MPs and Lords had vested interests which meant that they would benefit personally, and stated: ‘these people are thieves’.
On 23 April (in a courtroom without disabled access … and therefore unwitnessed by any disabled person) the courts turned down an appeal against the government’s decision to abolish the Independent Living Fund – a £320m fund which helps 20,000 people with severe disabilities to live as independently as possible.
That same day, after losing in the British Court of Appeal yet another attempt to deport Abu Qatada, the Tories again floated the idea of leaving the European Court of Human Rights and scrapping the Human Rights Act. Talk like this should alarm British workers, whose employment rights are based substantially on European legislation.
On 22 April, at 11:30pm in an almost-deserted chamber, the Lords agreed to amend the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill so that the burden of proving what caused an accident will now fall on the injured worker, or the family of someone killed, rather than the employer – a rule-change that overturns century-old legislation and will affect 70,000 cases a year. This month, in fact, saw the abolition of a raft of safety regulations, including the scrapping of the head protection regulations and the closure of the tower crane register – vital regulations which improved safety on construction sites.
That same day, Childcare minister Elizabeth Truss (who herself employs a nanny) criticised nurseries for allowing toddlers to ‘run around with no sense of purpose’ and announced her intention to insist that nursery staff need higher qualifications – a requirement which would make nursery care too expensive for ordinary people and has been interpreted as a move to force mothers on part-time work out of the workplace altogether.
On 19 April, the Guardian reported a proposal by Eric Pickles’s Department for Communities to control and censor the content of newsletters issued by local councils, a proposal which Local Government Association leader Sir Merrick Cockell labelled ‘unnecessary and disproportionate’.
The same day, a left-wing blogger revealed that a Jobseeker personality test required by the DWP (with sanctions if you refused) was a ‘behavioural control’ fake designed by a US counter-terrorism and psychology team – however you answer the 48 questions, the test returns the same results, even if you click through without answering at all. (And if you try to access the blog in question from facebook you will find that – along with a number of other left-wing blogs – it is either blocked, or flagged as spam.)
On 17 April, quietly under cover of the Thatcher funeral, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling issued plans to reform the legal aid system, including fixed fees for handling cases and packaging legal aid into 400 contracts for which big firms like G4S will be encouraged to bid; it is the 'marketisation' of legal aid, and lawyers warned that fixed fees will incentivise lawyers to recommend guilty pleas.
On 15 April, on a disastrous day for human rights in Britain, the Commons voted:
1. to SCRAP Section_3 of the Equality and Human Rights Commission's duties, which gives it a general obligation to 'eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation'.
2. to REMOVE from the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill a provision outlawing caste discrimination (which is therefore now not illegal in Britain).
On the same day, Hansard reported a number of complaints by Parliament’s Human Rights Joint Committee that the government’s practice of fast-tracking bills was not giving it time to scrutinise properly legislation which had human rights implications.
That same day, MPs voted to preserve the scheme that will allow people to set up businesses without giving their employees full rights … provided they give them shares in the business instead (the Lords later overturned this proposal, so we will ‘watch that space’ on this one).
That same day also, facing criticism from Tory MPs for his plans to allow house extensions of huge size, Eric Pickles asked them to overturn a Lord’s amendment on the grounds that he intended to introduce a concession, although he refused to tell MPs what it was! On this basis, 286 Tory MPs voted against the Lord’s amendment … for a concession which they did not even know what it was! (In the end, it turned out to be that you have to ask your neighbour first.)
On 15 April also, a benefit cap of £500 a week was introduced. This is something that many of the public agree with in principle … without appreciating that, when benefits reach this level, most of the benefit is going, not to the family, but to their landlord.
On 8 April, benefit increases were capped at 1% for three years. Many people – whose wages too are capped or frozen – also agreed with this in principle … without thinking that 1% of £70 a week is just 70p.
On 6 April, by contrast, at an estimated cost of £3bn., the government introduced a tax cut for anybody earning more than £150,000 a year; this will benefit the UK's 13,000 income millionaires by an average of £100,769 a year.
At the same time, the Tories also introduced for all Britain’s businesses ‘Real Time Information’ reporting on wage-payments, reducing PAYE to chaos, threatening small firms with insolvency, and laying the myth that this government wants to cut red tape and help small businesses.
Finally, on 1 April, the government introduced the ‘bedroom tax’; its cruellest aspect being that – even if you agree with it and try to downsize – there are no smaller houses to go to.
On the same day, the government introduced measures which effectively cut Council Tax Welfare Benefit by 10%. Durham County Council managed to delay by a year the inevitable result of this – that people on CTWB will have to pay a proportion of their council tax. (The measures also reduced the Town Council’s budget by approximately £60,000.)
On the same day also, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) came into force; it cuts the legal aid budget by £350m by removing entire areas of law from the scope of legal aid (including most areas of social welfare law) - so that fewer people now have access to free legal representation than at any time since legal aid was introduced.
If you have been interested to know about these developments, you can keep yourself up to date by joining the Newton Aycliffe Labour Group of Branches facebook page – at bit.ly/NALGOB – which usually records such things as they happen.